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-- Mike Mussina
A missing name in this account, it may be noted, is that of Willie Mays. He played in all four games and did not exactly or entirely fail: two doubles, one homer, a stolen base, four hits. But these totals do not suggest the true level of his contribution, and by this, for once, I mean that he was less of a player than the statistics suggest -- a much older player who looked every year and month of his 40 years -- a player gone quite gray-faced with exhaustion and pain and the pressures of leadership. Willie has seen all of his splendid early-season triumphs worn away to bare competence; in the late going he had managed but four hits in 40 at-bats, had gone a whole month without a homer, and had been striking out almost half the time. He apologized to his fans at the end of the regular season. During the playoffs, after I had seen Mays taking called third strikes or trying to bunt his way aboard or slicing a weak little pop hit on a fastball he could no longer get around on, I began -- for the first time in my life and with enormous sadness -- not to want him to come up to the plate. I dreaded it, in fact, and I was embarrassed by the feeling and ashamed of myself. But I still feel the same way, and I think it should be said: hang them up, Willie, please. Retire.Barring catastrophe, the Red Sox will make the playoffs and October could provide Schilling his last opportunity to perform, the lion still fierce but softening, grudgingly admitting he may give way after -- even perhaps during -- this final hunt. Mussina's situation is far worse. He may pitch, but will not be counted on for important situations that were once his staple, and if the kids who replace him excel, Mussina may not be a big part of the Yankees ever again. His biggest supporters in the organization shy away from watching the end. If he has a second act, it may have to wait until next season. "Eventually, the time is coming when I won't be able to do this anymore," Mussina said. "That's not too far in the future. This has been tough, tough, when you're on the road, sitting in a hotel room by yourself. It eats you up more [than] if you were home with your kids." Sunsets, in other words, are pretty only at the beach. Howard Bryant is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine. He is the author of "Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston" and "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball." He can be reached at Howard.Bryant@espn3.com.